The Spanish-language media increasingly focused on the question of whether Andy would play for the Honduran national team or represent the United States in international competition. The gringos are coming to steal our jewel, declared the front page of the July 19 issue of Diez, featuring a large photo of Andy.
The Honduran soccer federation, which had only learned of Andy through recent media reports, began expressing interest. “We will do everything possible to convince him [to play for Honduras],” Javier Padilla, head coach of the under-20 national team, told Diez. “We will fight to the end for Andy.”
Meanwhile, US national-team coach Thomas Rongen believes Andy is talented enough to play on the under-20 team immediately and on the full national squad in a couple of years.
For Andy, the decision is critical because soccer players are generally allowed to represent only one country in international competition. Once he plays for either Honduras or the United States, he can’t switch teams.
And although Andy has a green card, he can’t play for the US unless he becomes a citizen. The naturalization process requires permanent residents such as Andy to live in this country for five years before they can apply for citizenship, and Andy has had his green card for only about a year.
That rule has been bent for superstar athletes. David Regis—a French-born defenseman then playing professionally in Germany—had his US citizenship fast-tracked just in time for the 1998 World Cup. But since September 11, 2001, the system has become much less compromising.
D.C. United president Kevin Payne has reached out to Congressman Jim Moran, the Democrat who represents Andy’s district, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat who cochairs the Congressional Soccer Caucus, to discuss expediting Andy’s citizenship. The club’s only option is an act of Congress. It’s been done for athletes before—for example, to allow figure skater Tanith Belbin to represent the United States at the 2006 Winter Olympics—but it’s rare. More often, the government grants posthumous citizenship for green-card holders killed in combat while serving the nation. For a teenage soccer star who arrived in the country illegally, a private bill would be nearly impossible to engineer.
Rafael Callejas, a former Honduran president who now runs the country’s soccer federation, argues that the waiting period for US citizenship makes Andy’s decision simple. “With us, he plays tomorrow,” Callejas says. “With the US, you never know.”
Andy’s thinking shifts constantly, his agent says. One day he’s ready to call the Honduran federation. The next, he’s committing to the United States. “The US is a place that opens the door—it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you bring,” Andy says. “But you can’t forget your roots.”
His parents and D.C. United officials have promised to give Andy space to make up his mind. But Spanish-language reporters have been relentless. “They are always asking me with whom I’m going to play,” Andy says.
Few have more influence on Andy than a 67-year-old woman who came to Honduras looking for a better life and watched her family head north for the same dream. “I want him to play for the US,” his grandmother says. “His future is there.”